FAITH SEVERELY TESTED.
"By faith, Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac;...
accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the
dead, from whence also he received him
in a figure."--Heb. 11:17,19.
WITH CHANGES of dispensation come changes of divine methods of dealing with the faithful. The Lord's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son was totally different from any command he would give to his people now; and yet tests of a similar import, though of different kind, are laid upon the Lord's people to-day, and for a very similar purpose, viz., the testing of our heart-loyalty toward the Lord:--testing of faith in him,--in his wisdom, in his power, in his goodness.
In Abraham's day the patriarchal form of government prevailed, and under it the father of a family held an autocratic power which seemingly was rarely questioned by the children. The same extreme view of paternal government prevails, at least outwardly, in China to-day, we are informed. The patriarch, Abraham, was amenable to no earthly law or ruler, but to God only; and when the Lord proved or tested his faith and obedience by calling for the sacrifice of Isaac upon Mount Moriah, Abraham, full of faith and obedience, promptly responded, and there was no law or power to restrain the obedience. Even Isaac, who by this time was twenty-five years of age, seems to have offered not the slightest resistance to the divinely arranged program as set before him by his father; for in the vigor of youth he certainly need not have been bound to the altar contrary to his own will.
A severer test upon Abraham than this one could not be imagined. What could be a more difficult thing for any father to do than to slay his own child, even in response to the divine command? But in Abraham's case the sacrifice was a doubly keen one, because, not only had he the natural parental love for his offspring, but this was the son of promise, for whose birth he had waited according to divine promise, and longed and prayed, for twenty-five years--the son whose birth in his old age was admittedly a miracle of divine power--the son in whom, according to the divine word, centered all the gracious promises which had filled Abraham's heart for now fifty years; and which, during all this period, had constrained him to be a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth, so that he might in due time inherit these gracious promises which belonged to the future. How strange it must have seemed to him--how utterly inexplicable, that the Lord should ask him to surrender Isaac as a sacrifice!
Our respect for Abraham's faith rises higher and higher, as we behold the various manifestations of his confidence in God, and his obedience to the divine command. We say to ourselves, even as new creatures and partakers of the divine nature, O that we might have in fullest measure this abounding faith, this willing obedience, this trust, resting securely in God, this assurance that he is able to accomplish all that he has promised, even though the accomplishment of it should make necessary a resurrection from the dead! For the Apostle assures us that Abraham philosophized upon this matter--respecting the fact that Isaac was his legitimate heir, and had been so acknowledged of the Lord, saying, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." He could see no other way that God's word could be true; yet so strong was his faith that he trusted that the Lord was able to raise his son from the dead in order to fulfil the promise. Heb. 11:19.
This is exactly the kind of faith that the Lord desires to find in the spiritual seed of Abraham, the Gospel Church--a faith that will trust him even where it cannot trace him; a faith which recognizes his perfect wisdom, perfect love and perfect power. It is not a faith, however, that is a spontaneous growth, under present fallen conditions. It requires years for its development. Abraham had not this degree of faith when first he entered the land of Canaan as a pilgrim. It was the lack of this perfect trust in God which made him fearful to acknowledge Sarah to be his wife, when later he went into the borders of Egypt; it was a faith that had grown through his continued intimacy
*This was written as the S.S. Lesson for Aug. 25 but was accidentally omitted. Many requests lead us to present it now. [R2908 : page 358] with his Almighty "Friend." His previous trials and testings had already contributed to the development of this his finished faith; the long waiting and frequent disappointments in respect to Isaac had been beneficial; the attempt to assist the Lord in the fulfilment of the promise, in the begetting of Ishmael, and the subsequent rejection of Ishmael as not being of the Lord's arrangement, had no doubt helped to establish the patriarch in his confidence that God's purposes are immutable, and his power unlimited.
And so it is with the spiritual seed of Abraham, the Christ, the Church:--our faith-development also is a work of time and patient endurance of trials and testings, which, rightly received, work out for us an increase of knowledge, an increase of faith, and an increase of fellowship with God,--until, by the Lord's grace, we later on reach such a development of faith in him as sometimes surprises ourselves, and assures us that we have made some progress; because at the beginning of our way we could not have endured the same trials successfully. Thus we see that in many respects even our faith is a gift of God--that while we exercised some faith in the beginning of our experiences, yet the development of it to such a condition and degree as will be acceptable to God is of God's grace, through his providential leadings, dealings, instructions. To him, therefore, we must render the praise, not only for the glorious results, but also for the faith and the works of this present time, which fit and prepare us for the coming glory and blessings.
Mount Moriah is one of the hilltops embraced in the city of Jerusalem, which of course was not in any degree built or inhabited in Abraham's time. The Temple was built upon this hilltop, and the original rock upon which it is supposed Abraham offered his son--later represented by the ram--is now to be seen. True, it is no longer called the Temple, but a Mohammedan mosque--the Mosque of Omar. Nevertheless, the Mohammedans have preserved this natural rock from any desecration, and visitors are permitted to look upon it over a railing;--the writer so viewed it with keen interest in 1892. In Solomon's Temple it constituted the base of the altar of sacrifice, and a drain (apparently a natural one) leads from this place of the killing of the sacrifice, underground toward the valley of Jehoshaphat, or the "valley of dry bones," which typically represents Adamic death, as the Valley of Hinnom symbolizes the Second Death. We see in this the divine foreknowledge and fore-arrangement in respect to every feature of the plan of salvation. God not only foreknew that he would use the land of Palestine in connection with the development of typical Israel, but he premeditated also the construction of the Temple, centuries afterward, upon the site which he selected for it. And that site, and the Temple, and the city, Jerusalem, and the Valley of Jehoshaphat and the Valley of Hinnom, all were intended to be, and are, so many lessons in respect to the divine plan, past, present and to come--to those who have the eyes of their understanding opened to see these matters from the right standpoint--from the standpoint of Jehovah, who promised forgiveness and blessing through Abraham's seed, and who has since been gradually working out his great and glorious propositions. Although our Lord Jesus, the Head, and the Church which is his body, were not slain upon this typical rock in Mount Moriah, nor in any other one spot in the world, nevertheless, the lesson is a clear one to all who understand that the blood of bulls and of goats, which can never take away sin, offered upon this spot--typified the better sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Only those who recognize the fact that Abraham was a type of God (Rom. 4:17, margin), as Isaac was a type of Christ, can have any clear and satisfactory comprehension and appreciation of the incidents of this lesson. As Abraham was willing to offer his only son, in whom centered the promises, so Jehovah gave his Only Begotten Son, in whom centered the promises, that he should die on our behalf--a sacrifice to meet the demands of Justice, to the intent that thereby every promise of God respecting the blessing of all the families of the earth might be made possible, and in due time be accomplished. Although Abraham's hand was stayed, that he should not obey the Lord's command, nevertheless, the entire incident illustrates what other Scriptures affirm, viz., that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" of the world's sins;--that unless the heir of the promises should die for man's redemption the promises could never be fulfilled. And this lesson is fully carried out in the picture before us; for although Abraham was not permitted to offer Isaac, a representative of Isaac was offered, the ram which God had provided.
So, throughout the Jewish age, God permitted the natural children of Abraham to rejoice in his promise of blessing, requiring of them also that they continuously show forth the fact that the blessings could not come without a great sin-offering;--requiring them also to sacrifice bulls and goats, as sin offerings year by year continually, though these could never take away sin. They pointed to the great sin-bearer, who should also be the great deliverer. And now we, of this Gospel age, viewing the matter from the standpoint of its accomplishment, can see, as the Word of God declares, that the same God who in times past provided for the typical sacrifices has now provided the real one,--"by whose stripes we are healed." We can see also, as the Apostle explained, that as Isaac was so are we--the antitypical Isaac, members of the body of Christ--offered upon the Lord's altar. We see that Jesus, our Lord and Head, "offered up himself," and that we, covered by the merit of his sacrifice, are permitted to "present our bodies living sacrifices" upon the same altar, and to "fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ."--Col. 1:24.
What a joy, what a blessing, to see the real meaning and value of the antitype; and to realize that the death of Christ the Head, and the sacrifice of the Church, his body, so far from annulling or destroying the original divine plan, are only steps in its accomplishment: that in the divine order the sacrifice of the human nature is essential to a part in the first resurrection, with its glory, honor and immortality. It rejoices us to realize that so far from the divine plan being frustrated by the death of the antitypical Isaac it is being consummated thereby--that the death of the Christ is the broad foundation which God is laying, by which he can "be just and yet the [R2908 : page 359] justifier" of all them that believe in Jesus; so that when this glorious Messiah and his house of sons shall be exalted to the power intimated in the promise, he will be fully competent and fully authorized to confer upon the world the great and wonderful blessings which God forestated to father Abraham in an obscure and typical manner.
In the light of the spirit's revelation we rejoice to see that the blessings which are coming through this "seed of Abraham" (Gal. 3:16,29) will not only be, first of all, the divine favor toward the Church, evidenced in the glory, honor and immortality bestowed upon every member thereof, but additionally the blessing also upon the natural seed of Abraham, Israel according to the flesh; and furthermore, the blessing upon all the families of the earth, as the Lord has promised;--the blessing of release from the control and deceptions of Satan, and from the dominion of sin and its weaknesses: so that all who will may hear the voice of that great Prophet, Priest and King, and come forth step by step, not only out of the prison-house of death, but also out of "the valley of the shadow of death,"--clear up, up, up, to the mountain-tops of perfect life and perfect harmony with the divine Creator, lost for all through father Adam by disobedience, but redeemed for all--for as many as will accept it--by the precious blood of Christ.
Occasionally some poor creatures of unbalanced mind, untaught and ignorant as respects the divine character and plan, misapprehending the Lord's dealings with Abraham and his posterity as types, imagine that as God called upon Abraham to sacrifice his son, so he calls upon them to make some human sacrifice. Fortunately these poor deluded creatures are not numerous, and they call for our sympathy rather than for our denunciation. The friends of God, the children of God, will make no such mistake respecting the divine will, because, as it is written in the Scriptures, "they shall be all taught of God." Those who are taught of God know that human life is to be held very sacred. They know also not to lean to their own understandings, nor to dreams nor to imaginings. They see further that even in Abraham's case God did not wish the human sacrifice, but merely tested Abraham's faith. Nor have we such promises made to our children; we have, therefore no such faith to be tested by the death of our children; hence it would be impossible for God to test us thus. Moreover, when we see that the entire procedure with Abraham was typical, and when we understand its lessons, the entire matter is clear and plain to us.
While the seed of Abraham, the Church, has no such testing as his, it has, nevertheless, many severe faith-trials and testings, and as these are rightly received, and in proportion as faith abounds and triumphs in respect to all of our affairs of life, we are more and more blessed and taught of the Lord, and more and more acceptable to him, and more and more meet for the inheritance with the saints in light, as Abraham's seed.